October 20, 2021
Dr. Laura Perry is an associate veterinarian at Celtic Creatures Veterinary Clinic in Sydney.
If you have taken a trip to your veterinary clinic over the last several months, you’ve probably noticed how busy it’s become.
You’ve likely been informed of the longer wait times for routine care appointments, even for sickies, as your clinic tries to accommodate you and the many other pets while juggling the demands of this ever-changing time. Wait times and busy schedules have always existed, but they have been climbing rapidly over the last year — and are showing no signs of slowing down.
So why is this?
The government deemed veterinary medicine an essential service, as it is important to provide emergency and preventative care to pets and promote public health safety.
Veterinary clinics have adopted protocols to ensure the safety of their staff so they may remain open to provide their community with ongoing care. While these may seem extraneous at times, the consequences of clinics closing are much more devastating than following these protocols.
At the worst of times, veterinary clinics in Nova Scotia were only able to provide emergency services, deeming that preventative care could be postponed until safer times. Curbside appointments followed to minimize social interaction.
With the vaccination rate on the rise and COVID cases now more under control, many clinics have adopted policies that best suit their business. Appointment times were extended to allow for over-the-phone communication with owners and time between appointments to disinfect the exam rooms to ensure client and staff safety, resulting in fewer appointments available in a day.
Veterinarians and staff are dealing with the same pandemic as you are. They have families to care for, too, and as such, many have had to make adjustments to their work schedules to accommodate the demands of the pandemic in their personal lives.
With fewer staff working, it has resulted in an increased workload each day. Staff who are working are burning out over the increased demands — especially with no end in sight.
Over the course of the pandemic, pet ownership has increased by 40 per cent! This is incredible. It warms vets’ hearts, as they know well what love and joy an animal can bring into a home.
Pet owners have also been staying or working from home much more over the past year. This has led to earlier detection in illnesses or injuries, as owners are picking up on things that might have been missed in the past, and it’s driving them to seek veterinary care for their loved ones.
Additionally, while the province was on emergency lockdown, routine preventative care was not mandated as essential. Patients who were due for annual exams, vaccines, or even spaying and neutering had to wait. This resulted in a large backlog of appointments that we need to catch up on. The vet med industry is at an all-time high for demand and low on supply.
So, you can see; between the realities of the pandemic, decrease in veterinary staff and increase in pet ownership, the veterinary industry is in overdrive.
The veterinary care model
Here in Nova Scotia — with the exception of Halifax — we live in a relatively rural setting. Veterinary practices serve both as a general practice and an emergency centre. This differs from human medicine, or even veterinary medicine in large cities.
Veterinarians at local clinics see daily routine appointments such as wellness exams, vaccines, non-emergent sickies, like ear or skin infections, limping or coughing patients — similar to your family doctor.
Daily, they could be performing a number of spays and neuters, dentistries, or life-saving surgeries. They also try to reserve several appointment times throughout the day for emergencies, since there is no veterinary emergency centre here, similar to the hospital emergency room for people. They try to squeeze in the sick pets — performing diagnostics and treatments and communicating with you — while keeping up with the demands of the day.
Because of this model, your veterinarians are also the ones working after hours to provide emergency coverage for the animals that don’t get sick from 9 to 5. Even if they did four surgeries, saw 10 sick patients, missed their lunch and barely had a chance to sit down that day, they will show up when you call. They will provide your pet with the best care they can, hospitalizing them overnight if needed, even if that means they don’t make it home to their own beds.
The veterinary industry is facing an epidemic of its own. Mental illness and burnout are surging to an all-time high. Veterinarians have some of highest rates of suicide in the population.
The veterinary industry is facing an epidemic of its own. Mental illness and burnout are surging to an all-time high. Veterinarians have some of highest rates of suicide in the population. They are between 2.3 and five times more likely than the general population to die by suicide. This also affects veterinary technicians and receptionists. Every vet knows someone in vet med who has passed from mental illness. Poor work-life balance, poor debt-to-income ratio, seeing animals suffer and euthanizing them due to lack of finances, and abuse and bullying from clients plays a large role in this.
How can you help?
Our lives have been disrupted more than ever since the start of this pandemic, and normal has become a fleeting term. Vets are inherently empathetic people and understand the frustration and stress of this constant change, especially when you add a sick pet into the mix.
Veterinary clinics are doing their best to see to all their patients’ needs, and there are several things you, as a pet owner, can do to help.
Plan ahead: Presently, many clinics are booking appointments four weeks out for vaccines, and surgeries three to four months out. Make appointments for routine care weeks to months in advance.
If you are getting a new puppy, check in with the breeder or shelter to see when they will need vaccine boosters and plan accordingly. Keep your pets up-to-date on their flea and tick preventatives and dewormers to prevent illness.
Be vigilant: If your pet seems off or sick, make an appointment with your vet before they deteriorate and it turns into a full-fledged emergency. Understand that the veterinary staff will triage your pet and book the appointment accordingly.
Stay informed and follow guidelines: Most veterinary clinics keep their websites and Facebook pages updated with recent clinic guidelines. Come ready with your mask, hand sanitizer and cellphone.
Veterinarians may need to call you if they are doing curbside or drop-off appointments. Please respect the policies and help keep the veterinary staff safe by wearing your mask and maintaining a distance of six feet when possible.
People may have different opinions about COVID safety. However, the staff do not want, nor do they have the time, to debate their policies with you. Your appointment with your pet is neither the time nor place to debate such opinions.
Be patient and kind: Veterinary staff are doing their best to address your pet’s needs. Frustration and anxiety are understandable, but taking that anger out on the staff is never acceptable. Remember that they are there to work with you, as a team, to beat your pet’s illness. They are on your side, aiming for the same goal.
A moment of empathy can leave a huge impact on someone. Please be kind, patient and understanding. We are all in this together.
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